Tagged: James Shields

2009 Season Retrospective: Part One

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2009 season has been completed, here are some facts and figures from the season, including the good, bad and completely miserable:

  • Record: 84–78 (Third place)
  • Home Run Leader: Carlos Pena (39)
  • Stolen Base Leader: Carl Crawford (60)
  • Best Starter ERA: Jeff Niemann (3.94)
  • Batting Leader: Jason Bartlett (.320 — Franchise Record)
  • Best Bullpen ERA: J.P. Howell (2.84)
  • RBI Leader: Evan Longoria (113)

Longoria also led in runs scored (100). B.J. Upton was second in stolen bases (42). Matt Garza finished just behind Niemann in ERA (3.95). Howell led the team in saves (17), but also in blown saves (8).

  • Pat Burrell: .221, 14 HR in 122 games
  • Dioner Navarro: .218, 8 HR, 18 walks in 115 games
  • B.J. Upton: .241, 11 HR in 144 games
  • Andy Sonnanstine: 6–9, 6.77 ERA in 22 games (18 starts)
  • Grant Balfour: 5–4, 4.81 ERA (1.50 in 2008)
  • Scott Kazmir: 8–7, 5.92 ERA with the Rays in 20 games; 2–2, 1.73 ERA with the Angels in six games
  • James Shields: 11–12, 4.14 ERA

So without six busts and a mediocre season from Shields, this team probably would have made the postseason. Every one of those guys could have done much better, as they have before. Thankfully, they were aided by the surprising Ben Zobrist (.297, 27 HR, 17 SB) and Bartlett (30 SB, 14 HR; one HR in 2008).

  • Five players (Pena, Upton, Longoria, Burrell, Zobrist) struck out more than 100 times, while Crawford reached 99. Bartlett had a career–high 89 in 137 games. This is actually down from last season, when seven players reached triple digits.
  • Crawford stole his first 32 bases consecutively, but ended up being caught 16 times. He claims he was safe on half of those, and I can recall at least one (in New York) where he was indeed safe.
  • Troy Percival remained on the payroll the entire season, despite posting a 6.35 ERA in 14 games before going home in May. He still earned $4 million.
  • Lance Cormier and Randy Choate were the anti–Percival, pitching surprisingly well after signing minor league contracts. Cormier held down a 3.26 ERA and Choate 3.47.
  • Longoria hit 8 home runs with 26 RBI against the Red Sox.

Those are some random bits of information to close this out. Join me again soon for Part Two: Honest Opinions. Until next time, go Rays… and anyone who beats the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies.

A Swing and a Sweep

The Rays went 0–for–13 with runners in scoring position.

They left 11 men on base, as opposed to the Royals’ three.

James Shields received very little run support through his first seven innings.

Yet the Rays managed to win today’s game 3–2 and complete the sweep — their first sweep of 2009.

The victory can be attributed primarily to three men: Shields, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton.

Shields picked up the victory, allowing only a two–run double to Billy Butler in eight innings of work. He walked nobody and struck out eight Royals.

Crawford, in addition to his 34th stolen base, hit his fourth home run of the year to cut the Rays’ deficit to 2–1 in inning number seven.

And then there’s B.J. With two outs in the eighth inning, he smashed the first pitch more than halfway up into the left field seats to give his team the lead. This homestand was his turning point. His batting average jumped up to .218, and his third home run of the season single–handedly won a game. Upton should now be feared once again.

We can’t forget Ben Zobrist, who stole his sixth base of the season; Joe Dillon, who picked up three hits; or Michel Hernandez, who scored on the Upton home run.

Nor should we forget former Royal J.P. Howell. He saved the game 1–2–3 against the 3–4–5 hitters. Despite his great stats, he has had trouble late in close games. Thankfully, this was 2008 Howell revisited. He did an incredible job. So did Matt Joyce catching Butler’s deep fly ball to start that ninth inning.

So now it’s off to New York, where men become legends and rats become roadkill. The Rays performed admirably in the last two series, so they better not screw it up now. Until next time, go Rays.

Citrus Series Game Three: Marlins Walk Off

The Rays came ever so close to sweeping the Marlins right out of Margaritaville, but failed to drive in runners and lost 5–4 in 11 innings.

The bases were left loaded in the ninth inning by Ben Zobrist.  Maybe the magic only works when he pinch–hits.  Perhaps that is why Joe Maddon doesn’t start him everyday.

Here is my message to the entire Rays offense…

QUIT LEAVING THE BASES LOADED!

You have done this far, far too many times this season.  Sure, there have been some nice outbursts and a few grand slams.  But clearly, it is not good enough.  The Marlins showed you what to do with the bases loaded today when they walked off against you.  If you all would just drive in runs, regardless of how many outs there are or who you’re up against, we would not be having these problems.

But in today’s game, the early stages take the blame for the loss every bit as much as the end.  James Shields should never have given up those three second inning runs.  Especially one on an RBI single by a pitcher who doesn’t hit half his weight.  That is just embarrassing.  That inning burned us possibly even more than the bad finish did.

Carl Crawford Watch: On a positive note, Carl stole two more bases today to make it 28–for–28 this season.  He has now stolen 30 bases in a row dating back to last season.  The second one today came on a pitchout when everyone knew it was coming.  That is just blinding speed beating someone.  It wasn’t his fault the Rays lost.

Jason Bartlett also stole a base, his 14th in 15 attempts.

And the Braves swept the Blue Jays, yey.

The Rays now travel up to Cleveland to finish the job they started last weekend.  David Price makes his season debut on the mound tomorrow evening.  Happy Memorial Day everyone, and until next time, go Rays.

P.S. Follow me on Twitter at BrentonTampa.

Salvaging a Split in Baltimore

The Rays played one subpar game, then a horrible one before finally saving themselves in the finale of their weekend series at Camden Yards.

They narrowly lost the first game 5–4 when Akinori Iwamura, who couldn’t hit with two outs in the ninth inning with a firing squad in front of him, struck out to end the game.  Evan Longoria’s two home runs and Dioner Navarro’s line drive shot off George Sherrill were not enough to save Andy Sonnanstine, who uncharacteristically ran into walk problems early in the game.  The second game started and ended with Jeff Niemann, who made a case for David Price by surrendering five runs in the first inning, including a grand slam to Melvin Mora, whom I honestly thought wouldn’t be in the league by now.  They lost 6–0, the end coming when with two runners on base, Jason Bartlett — guess what? — struck out to end the game.

Before I get to the last game, I would like to address a few things that Joe Maddon and everyone else knows have been going wrong with the Rays.  They have been striking out too much, especially with runners on base.  They have left the bases loaded on multiple occasions with nothing to show for it.  They have left a small town on base during their first six games, which has Maddon telling his team to stop striking out and hitting meaningless flyouts.  They could really use some better situational hitting.

The Rays got their hitting in general rolling Sunday with an impressive 11–3 win.  After they left two men on base in the first inning, Carl Crawford lifted a three–run triple down the right field line to open up the scoring.  The Rays later got home runs out of Ben Zobrist on a line drive over the high right field wall, Jason Bartlett on a smash into the center field seats (you read that correctly), Evan Longoria on a line drive into the left field stands and Carlos Pena on a high fly ball just over that right field scoreboard.  James Shields was masterful, giving up only three hits and no runs in seven innings before leaving due to the huge lead.  After a scoreless inning from Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour loaded the bases with nobody out and allowed two runs before mercifully being pulled.  Although a third run later scored on a double play, J.P. Howell got out of the inning and the game with a comfortable win.

Longoria has been killing the baseball in the first week of the season.  He is hitting .481 (13–27) with five home runs and only three strikeouts.  He also took an opportunity to steal a base yesterday, which I consider a nice bonus.  Now he just needs some lineup protection to keep up the pace.  Despite my previous knocks on him, Iwamura has been producing well so far.  His three hits in the last game make him 8–22 on the season, and he already has four walks and three stolen bases.  Crawford finally stole a base yesterday and is hitting .308.  Pena hasn’t been that great, but he has hit two convincing home runs.  Jason Bartlett hit .391 on the opening roadtrip.  So there have been a few big bats that just need to keep it going.

Speaking of which, another big bat is scheduled to return tonight.  B.J. Upton, the team’s center fielder and tablesetter, is coming back into the lineup for the Rays’ home opener.  The team optioned Matt Joyce to Durham to make room for Upton, who will bat leadoff and (hopefully) hit home runs and run circles around everyone.  He can be an additional spark plug who can give this team more critical wins and push them into another playoff race.  We’ll see how he is when he takes the field.  I can see it only going uphill from here.

The Rays play their first home game tonight at Tropicana Field, kicking off Championship Week against the New York Chokees Yankees.  The pennant is raised tonight and championship rings are to be given out tomorrow night.  Scott Kazmir beating Chien–Ming Wang would be a great start.  Until next time, go Rays.

World Series Tied 1-1

The 2008 World Series started unfavorably for our Tampa Bay Rays, but has now been evened up.  The series is tied at one as it heads north to Philadelphia.  It was very refreshing to see the Rays come back, just as they did against the Red Sox, and avenge a game one home loss to make things easier on themselves.

Game one of this World Series was started by the Rays’ Scott Kazmir and the Phillies’ Cole Hamels.  Kazmir was quickly tagged in the first inning by a two run home run from Chase Utley.  This sent the Rays to the plate in a manner in which they are accustomed: down.  They were dominated, with the exception of a Carl Crawford home run and a two out RBI from Akinori Iwamura.  Hamels brought his A–game, but while Kazmir pitched well and the bullpen held down the fort, the Phillies never surrendered their early lead.  Brad Lidge made a save against the 3–4–5 hitters look like a Class A rehab stint.  They held on to defeat the Rays 3–2 and steal a big road game at Tropicana Field.

Game two, meanwhile, would be a very different story.  James Shields took the ball against Brett Myers.  Almost everyone expected this one to go the Rays’ way and tie the series.  From the first inning on, this sentiment proved accurate.  Tampa Bay took its turn at attacking in the first inning, going up 2–0 on a walk, a single and a critical one–base error that allowed the next two groundouts to score runs.  There you have it, Phillies fans: Blame Jayson Werth for bobbling the ball.  They would manufacture two more runs to go up 4–0.  The Rays actually caught a huge umpiring break from Kerwin Danley when he allowed Rocco Baldelli to walk rather than striking out on a check swing.  He would later score.  Big Game James left surprisingly early, after 5.2 shutout innings, but he certainly did his job in keeping his team ahead.  Dan Wheeler came in and scared me before escaping a sixth inning jam without a run scoring on his way to one full scoreless inning.  After he struck out Werth with a runner on base, Joe Maddon boldly — and wisely — summoned David Price in for the long haul.  He escaped that jam with the 4–0 lead.  He gave up a home run to, of all people, extremely light–hitting Eric Bruntlett, then a ninth inning run on an error by Evan Longoria.  (Sidenote: What is it with all the infield errors lately?  What are they, the Bad News Rays?)  However, Price struck out Chase Utley on three sliders, then induced a Ryan Howard groundout to end the game.  The Rays won their first World Series game, 4–2, and tied the series.

Game three will feature a battle of opposites as Matt Garza faces Jamie Moyer.  Garza = Young hard–throwing right hander.  Moyer = 45–year–old soft left hander.  By the way, the first game drew a 9.2 broadcast rating on FOX, winning the night against stiff competition.  Who says the Rays can’t draw?  Everyone?  Well, as Lewis Black says, “Once again, the masses are wrong.”  So until next time, go ratings winning Rays.

Kazmir Starting Game Five

Manager of the Year Joe Maddon has made a switch in his starting rotation for the next two ALCS games.  Scott Kazmir, not James Shields, will pitch game five tomorrow night.  Shields would get the ball in game six back home, if necessary.

I didn’t think about this possibility before, but I like the idea.  With the additional day off in Boston, Kazmir gets one more crucial day of rest.  He has been fairly good in Boston throughout his career.  And with a 3–1 series lead, they can go ahead and take this chance with Shields waiting to pitch back in his domain at Tropicana Field.  Kazmir has faced Daisuke Matsuzaka numerous times since last season, so it’s a very familiar matchup.  Shields is more like Josh Beckett, and has been superior to him lately, thus matching up better with him.

Topping all that off, Maddon is even gameplanning around umpires.  Game six would be umpired behind the plate by Derryl Cousins.  Kazmir had a problem with his umpiring in a June 11 loss to the Angels.  Here’s what he said after that game:

“That was unbelievable, I’d never seen anything like that before. I never said anything like this about an umpire before, but that was just a crucial part of the game and you just don’t do
that. Makeup calls or not makeup calls — call it when it’s there, you
know what I mean? You shouldn’t change your strike zone because of the
count. It doesn’t make sense.”

This makes starting Kazmir with him behind the plate and the season on the line a very unwise move.  Thus, Maddon is not taking that chance.  I like the Rays’ chances in these next two games, be it Kazmir or Shields winning.  Until next time, go Rays.

Rays Up 1-0

The Tampa Bay Rays have officially won their first ever playoff game, knocking off the large market Chicago White Sox 6–4 to take game one of the Division Series at Tropicana Field.  This home victory obviously marks the Rays’ home territory as their own and gives them important early momentum in such a short series.  Despite a home run from the last guy in the White Sox power laden lineup who would be expected to hit one, Dewayne Wise, Rays starter James Shields pitched 6.1 innings and gave up three runs, all on the home run.  He left with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, but Grant Balfour came to his aid with strikeouts of Juan Uribe and Orlando Cabrera, who defiantly (and moronically) kicked dirt at Balfour before being silenced by the Terminator.  With enough run support to win, Shields escaped that final jam and propelled Tampa Bay to its first playoff victory.

The story of the game, however, was the Rookie of the Year at third base.  Right there in front of candidate Alexei Ramirez, Longoria took the very first pitch he saw in the postseason, a get me over fastball from Javier Vazquez, and rocket launched it into the left center field seats.  This put the Rays up 1–0.  Later, tied at three, Longoria made his second trip to the plate.  After a strike, Vazquez hung a curveball dead center, which Longoria exited stage left for another home run.  The ball did its little turn on the catwalk before landing in the left field seats.  “Evan Almighty” became the second player in MLB history to hit home runs in his first two playoff plate appearances.  The other was former third baseman and current Durham Bulls hitting coach Gary Gaetti, with the 1987 Minnesota Twins.  The Rays took a lead they would never surrender, with Longoria adding fuel to the fire with an RBI single in his third time up.  Carl Crawford returned to the starting lineup and had his own RBI hit after regaining some of his timing in Instructional League games.  The fact that he can swing a bat at full strength at this point is a product of the advancement of the modern medical field.  Carlos Pena — who writes his very own postseason blog — left the game early with blurred vision, but is expected to play in the second game.

ESPN must be paying their anchors to continuously find ways to make fun of Rays crowds.  Scott Van Pelt, upon the opening of the 11:00 SportsCenter, said that “a bunch of fans going to see the Rays at Tropicana Field for the very first time” were at the game, adding a sadistic sarcastic smile.  He did go on to say it was good of the fans to fill the dome, but then added that they were “a bunch of new fans who probably had to have the ground rules explained to them.”  Even as recently as earlier this season, that one might have worked.  But Rays attendance jokes became passe when they won their playoff spot in front of another capacity crowd.  Their attendance increased by more than 25% this year, counting all those early games.  To his credit, Steve Levy recognized this and steered clear of Rays fan shots on later editions of the show.

With that win, the Rays now carry the series advantage into the next game along with that home field advantage.  Scott Kazmir, long regarded as the ace of the pitching staff, gets the call for game two against veteran left hander Mark Buehrle.  Offensively, some of the Rays (Longoria) need to keep what they did yesterday going, and that’s all they should need.  I’ll be watching every minute of it, just as I did the first game.  Until that win is nailed down, go Rays.